How alleys are becoming Fort Wayne's hottest hangout spots

When you picture the busiest streets in Fort Wayne, you might picture Dupont Road or Jefferson Boulevard during rush hour.

But when Gehl, a global leader in people-centered urban design, tracked the city’s street usage, it found something surprising.

Fort Wayne’s network of downtown alleyways are a highly used and largely overlooked part of its public transit system. In fact, the alley leading to the back door of Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island is traveled by more than 100 people during its peak hours, making it the fifth-busiest “street” in the city.

An aerial shot of the Porch Off Calhoun.

These findings published in a January 2019 report are driving local leaders and creatives to think differently about the city’s alleyways, considering them less the backsides of businesses and more as public spaces that have the potential to take on lives of their own.

“Not only will expanding the fine-grain network improve walkability in downtown Fort Wayne, but it will also bring distinct character to it a unique midwestern destination,” Gehl reports.

The Porch Off Calhoun is in the alley adjacent to 816 Pint & Slice.

In 2016, Gehl was contracted by the City of Fort Wayne to study its public spaces and how they are used. The final plan was funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne/Knight Foundation, the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission, and the Community Development Division. 

According to Sherese Fortriede, Senior Planner with The City of Fort Wayne Planning and Policy Department, 2018 was when things really started to take off.

“One of the primary things we did was this public space survey, which was a pretty intense effort at the end of April 2018,” she says. “It was a Thursday and a Saturday, and we had probably 50 volunteers who stood at 10 different locations within an area. We wanted to know, 'What are people doing in this space? How many people are going through space? What are they doing when they get there? Are they sitting or walking or are they just passing through?' In other words, what's the stickiness of that space?" 

The Porch Off Calhoun is becoming a popular hangout spot.

The volunteers made some good observations, which helped the City identify areas they could work on. Among them is what’s now known as the "Porch Off Calhoun," a city-owned space adjacent to 816 Pint & Slice that debuted this summer and is now associated with string lighting, ample community seating, games, murals, and a big-city vibe.

The Porch Off Calhoun gives Fort Wayne a big-city vibe.

The City also added sidewalk decals and tested a mid-block crossing on Wayne Street, where they put out grass carpet to discourage jaywalking between the alleys. 

The timing of the “Hello” mural in downtown's alley between Berry and Wayne Streets is a story in and of itself, says Fortriede.

Friends relax at the Porch Off Calhoun.

The piece was completed by artist Shawn Dunwoody, who hails from Rochester, N.Y. Coincidently, Dunwoody was already scheduled to speak at the 2019 Regional Neighborhood Network Conference when he was awarded the commission. So he was able to complete the mural just in time for Art This Way's annual Art Crawl on the same night as the conference. 

Games like jumbo Jenga are available to rent from the city for free.

While the Porch Off Calhoun and its adjacent alley have been as one hot spot for pedestrians, Gehl is challenging leaders to think bigger and consider activating the space behind JK O’Donnell’s, which they refer to as "The Patio."

The Gehl team recommended "leveraging the unique nooks and special spaces within the alleyway network should start with a temporary re-imagining of this space into a beer garden and outdoor movie patio." Right now this isn't all feasible due to some red tape, says Fortriede.

Gehl's vision for "The Patio"

In the meantime, restaurant staff have successfully tried public movie nights and may pursue more of the recommendations, if the logistics allow, she explains. 

The common theme behind these spaces? Serendipity. 

The Porch Off Calhoun is becoming a popular meeting space.

“I think that's the best part," Fortriede says. "It’s just something organic that you can't plan for necessarily. It's what people like, and we hear so many positive stories. For example, there was a mother and daughter at the Porch Off Calhoun, and their reaction was, 'This is for me. It feels so different.' It’s feedback like that we couldn't even have imagined.”

More photos of the Porch Off Calhoun

The Porch Off Calhoun is a city-owned space.From reading to recreation, there's room for a number of different activities on the Porch Off Calhoun.The Porch Off Calhoun is becoming a popular hangout spot.
Games like checkers are popular at the Porch Off Calhoun.
Hanging lanterns decorate the alley space.

Live music adds to the appeal of the Porch Off Calhoun.What was once an alley, is now an active space.There is often live music in the alley on Friday and Saturday nights.Cornhole is a popular game at the Porch Off Calhoun.Local musicians play at the Porch Off Calhoun.The Porch Off Calhoun combines murals with lights, lanterns, games, and places to hang out.


Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.